Self-driving truck startup TuSimple announced today that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has awarded it a contract to perform five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling the agency’s trailers more than 1,000 miles between the USPS distribution centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Robert Brown, TuSimple’s director for public affairs. He said the pilot marks the first time a U.S. government agency fleet has publicly announced road tests with a Level Four autonomous system – vehicles that can navigate without human intervention under most conditions.
“It’s a big win not just for TuSimple but for the whole industry,” Brown said.
During the pilot, self-driving trucks will run for 22 hours each along the I-10, I-20 and I-30 corridors to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Although TuSimple trucks already make deliveries in Arizona, the new route marks the company’s self-driving debut in Texas and across three states.
“The robustness of the route is a first for us,” Brown said.
The project also offers an opportunity to raise public awareness around self-driving technology. Partnering with a venerable institution like the Postal Service will make people more comfortable with the idea of autonomous vehicles, TuSimple hopes, and perhaps allay public concerns about their safety.
“Everyone has a connection to the U.S. Postal Service,” Brown said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to educate people about the technology.”
The trucks involved in the test runs will have a safety engineer and driver on board to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety.
The TuSimple pilot reflects the broader push by USPS to innovate, the postal agency said in a statement. “We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology to accommodate a diverse mail mix, enhance safety, improve service, reduce emissions and produce operational savings.”
The USPS is classified as an independent agency under the executive branch and receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.
News of the USPS partnership comes several months after TuSimple landed $95 million in a Series C funding round. At the time, the company said it planned to start deliveries in Texas next and would have more than 50 trucks on the road by June.
Other self-driving trucking companies are ramping up their autonomous vehicle road tests. Last week, the autonomous truck company Starsky Robotics completed a series of tests on a section of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway near Tampa, Florida.
China Post, the state-owned enterprise that operates the official postal service of mainland China, started autonomous package delivery in April using autonomous driving technologies developed by Fabu Technology, an artificial intelligence company focused on intelligent driving systems.